I’m one of those guys that tends to dance with my demons… a lot. Not that I enjoy it, it just takes me a while to wake up and realize that rather than enjoying life and living it to the fullest, I’m focused on my problems. Dancing with my demons turns into wrestling, and suddenly I’m frustrated with life and how sideways it’s going. I’ve danced with the demons of believing I was a bad person, of believing God and others hated me, of feeling like I was a failure, and many more.
An intriguing devil people dance with is FOMO: Fear Of Missing Out. You know FOMO: That knot in the pit of your stomach that means something great is going on… without you. Your friends are at a raging party, but you had to work. Everyone’s at Burning Man, but you had to be at a family reunion. Someone from work is on your dream vacation. And they just got the promotion you deserved. All your friends are finding perfect relationships. Your social feed is packed with photos of other people’s perfect lives. Everyone else is happy, and you’re missing out.
Fear Of Missing Out isn’t a new or unique thing. It has been around since the dawn of time and comes in many forms: Social, professional, religious, familial… even my dog gets food FOMO every time I open a bag of chips. Social FOMO, specifically, has become an enormous elephant in the chat room. Social networks have become an intensely narcissistic frenzy of “look at me” posts trying to show off how amazing our lives are. The hunt for validation in the form of Likes, Loves, or the chance to go viral has driven droves of people into fake friendships, extreme lifestyles, and even into debt trying to win this perpetual popularity contest. It’s the new era of Keeping Up With the Jones’s. Now that it’s online, the Jones’s aren’t just our neighbors, it’s everyone with a smartphone. That’s a helluva lot of competition. And the Social FOMO Demon wants to dance!
The problem with Social FOMO is it stems from and blinds us to a more important issue: Spiritual FOMO. No, spiritual FOMO isn’t anxiety about being the best meditator. It isn’t the quest to out-yoga everyone else. Spiritual FOMO is all about you and your personal quest for happiness. While social FOMO has us seeking happiness from outside sources, we forget that happiness comes from within. While we’re out searching for external validation, we’re ignoring our internal landscape. The longer we ignore our internal unhappiness, the further it decays and crumbles. Our own ability to make ourselves happy weakens until we become socially codependent, relying on the world around us to bolster and manage our emotions. We mistakenly believe that finding the perfect relationship, upgrading to a better neighborhood, going on that dream vacation, or buying our dream car will finally make us happy again.
Before we go further, let me define “spirituality” in order to provide context for this article. My take on spirituality is pragmatic and applicable for anyone in any walk of life. If I had to define spirituality in one word, it would be “connectedness.” Feeling connected to ourselves―mind, body and emotions. Feeling connected to others―relationships and communities. Feeling connected with nature and the Earth. A deep sense of connectedness gives us a sense of quiet confidence, peace, love and joy. Connectedness gives us a sense of inner order despite the chaos of the outer world.
You might say chaos is the problem, but the problem is how we handle chaos. If we let it, chaos can breed fear, which breeds more chaos. Fear makes us feel disconnected, lonely, desperate, downtrodden, hopeless and frustrated. To name a few. Living in fear means living out the dramas in our head rather than connecting with life and living from the heart. Social FOMO is a perfect example of how we let the chaos drive us into cycles of fear and chaos. Searching the chaos of the world for peace and happiness only spurs chaos and fear within.
Again, social FOMO masks a deeper, far more personal FOMO. The problem is our external search for inner happiness. Spiritual fear of missing out reminds us to look within. “Spiritual” FOMO tugs at perhaps our deepest desire: The desire for purpose. We humans have a built-in craving to answer deep questions about life: Who am I? Why am I here? What is the purpose of life? What happens after I die? These questions can rattle us to the core, to the point that we try to ignore them and disappear into the status quo. Despite our efforts to stay distracted, that need to find meaning rears its head and we wonder, “What is the point, really?”
Perhaps the most important part of spirituality is feeling connected with a deeply meaningful purpose. Having a purpose in life helps us feel like we are part of this world, and that we have something important to offer. Rather than hoping others will validate us, validation comes from answering our heart’s call to live authentically. This is what I refer to as destiny―finding our purpose in life and fulfilling it to the best of our ability.
“Destiny” is another big word, like spirituality, that deserves some definition. As a pragmatically spiritual person, my view on destiny is also practical and immediately applicable. Rather than a cosmically ordained path already chosen for us, I view destiny as a combination of our gifts and talents, passions for life, and our natural impulse to evolve and improve. Living our destiny―whatever it is, great or small, public or private―motivates and inspires us, edifies and uplifts us, and gives us the peace that comes from living a courageously authentic life.
A few people are born with a clear, unquestionable sense of destiny. Their lives unfold as naturally as a flower bud grows into full bloom. Most people aren’t born with that kind of clarity. Most of us have to spend some time searching the world and ourselves to find a sense of destiny. For some of us, our life purpose may change depending on where we are in life. Most of us experience the thorns of anxiety and confusion as we search for meaning. We may feel lost, directionless and a sense of urgency to find our place in the big picture.
This struggle can feel like chaos if we let it. When we get frustrated with life, or feel like we’re missing out, we’re really just dancing with our Destiny Demon. That demon wants us to live up to others’ expectations or reach some destination. It worries that there’s no point, so all our efforts are being gobbled up in a black hole of purposelessness. Destiny FOMO thinks that if the world isn’t validating us with money or recognition then maybe we’ve missed our boat. Focusing on our problems and worrying that we’re missing out just allows chaos to reign our inner world.
The point is to live with an inner sense of purpose rather than an outer one. Destiny isn’t a destination point or achievement you can cross off a list. Destiny is a way of living. Destiny is about evolving in positive ways, expanding your gaze and widening your horizons. Destiny means exploring this life and embracing the adventure. Living with purpose means transforming chaos and fear into curiosity, creativity, love and kindness. And, it means doing those things authentically.
An example might help illustrate the difference between living from inner purpose versus living for external meaning. Say you choose to become a doctor thinking it will make you happy. That seems like a clear purpose in life. There’s a clear path of going to school, getting degrees, then working your way up the career ladder. The perks of prestige and great pay aren’t bad, either. However, years down the road you find yourself unfulfilled. Why? Because school and career are destinations, not a way of living. Money and prestige are external sources of validation and are completely incapable of satisfying your soul’s need for meaning.
Now, say you look within and feel deeply that your purpose is to be a healer. You can heal as a doctor, nurse, physical therapist, massage therapist or yoga instructor. A mother can use healing words to soothe her child’s fears, and hugs to heal their hearts. A friend can offer healing catharsis by listening to their friend’s problems. Diplomats can heal rifts between nations by finding commonalities and peaceful resolutions. There are worlds of difference between being a doctor, and healing. Healing is independent of income, career or status, and it comes from within. Your validation and fulfillment come from every act of healing you do, even if it’s to brighten someone’s day with your smile.
It’s no secret that any truly meaningful purpose will be one of helping others. You could be a lawyer, or you could help people find justice. You could be a teacher, or you could help people learn. You could be a politician, or you could help people get along. You could fill a role in the world and live for a paycheck, or you could use your talents and abilities to help solve the world’s problems.
Some Great News
The best news about life purpose is that you don’t have to stop your life dead in its tracks to start living your destiny. Since life purpose comes from within, you can start doing it today. If your purpose is to make people laugh, don’t wait until you’re a successful comedian, make the people around you laugh today. If you’re a writer, write today! Make the time, even if it’s five or ten minutes each day. Make a life plan that gives you a worthwhile direction in life. Break your bigger goals down into bite-sized chunks you can do each day. This may not feel like purpose, but putting a plan down on paper is a powerful way to make your dreams more of a reality. And remember, your destiny isn’t the plan, the plan just helps you birth your inner purpose into the outer world.
If you don’t know your destiny, then your purpose is to find it. Rather than worrying that you’re missing out, search for your purpose patiently, and compassionately. Research ideas that have been rattling in the back of your mind. Spend time each day getting educated about things that interest you. Compile a list of things you’re really good at, things you’re passionate about, people you’d like to help specifically.
When your Destiny Demon rears its head, give it a big hug! Our inner demons aren’t scary―they’re scared. They need all the love and compassion we can give them. Then, put it to work! If you have the energy to worry about something, you have the energy to do something about it, instead. Set your fears’ focus on your positive purpose in life.
Bonus Section: Life Purpose For the Impatient
Not sure what your life purpose is? Don’t want to wait for one? Start by being your best self. That’s simple enough, and will give you plenty of material to work with. Another life purpose with zero regret is to Be Kind. You can’t go wrong with kindness. Be kind to yourself. Be kind to those closest to you. Be kind to strangers. Be kind at work. Be kind while driving. A life of kindness will shine light into the dark parts of this world, and bring healing and peace to the lovelorn. Will you still make mistakes? Sure. Will you try to rectify them? Definitely. Will you learn and grow with each new challenge life throws your way? Absolutely. Will it be worth it?
What do you think?